"Nothing changes in the Kalahari" : Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park Agreement and the effects of difference, discourse and the past

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Khomani San with access to 26,000 hectares of land in the national park for "symbolic and cultural uses", and is entitled a "Heritage Park". National parks have, in recent years, been required by legislation, popular opinion, and SANP policies to change how they interact with local communities. However, both staff in Kgalagadi and local residents consistently reiterate that "nothing changes in the Kalahari", and this is a dominant discourse in the Park. Experience of living in the region (including the National Park) has demonstrated to residents that little does change in their material social reality. Based on the experience of nine months in the Park as a volunteer with South African National Parks, complemented by a month of fieldwork, this study gauges the interpretation of a "Heritage Park" and co-management by the authority implementing the Agreement. Through interview and survey data this study argues that the power of discursive modes of communication and their control of knowledge and differing uses of and interpretations of the past limit the conceptualization of possible change. The emphasis placed by residents on racial difference restricts possible subject- positions and therefore, the possibility of multiple types of relations beyond apartheid-era categorization. While experience within the place creates its own set of limitations on social life. The Kalahari, I argue, is internalized by its residents and stifles a sense of possibility through a particular sense of the passage of time, the past, and different conceptions of its effect on the present. These factors combine as restrictions on any meaningful social change for the residents of Kgalagadi. I argue that it is the social dynamics within the Park that curb the success of the Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park Agreement. The social world inside Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park can by extension, be seen as a microcosm of the larger South African picture; a nation scored by differences of race, access to information and meaning in knowledge, and influential but ambiguous discourses.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 89-94).